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Jessamyn Barton
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Attended U of A
Lives in Canada
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Jessamyn Barton

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Surely I can't be the only one living in a conservative area who avoids going outside after awful events because you/I can't handle the gross attitudes of people, right?

I actually heard someone say to a buddy in earnest that we should put all Muslims (in Canada) in internment camps. It's like a sucker punch to the guts that people that awful can actually exist in real life- it's easier to think they're confined to the internet, I guess. I I just stared at him, couldn't even comprehend someone saying that in line at the grocery store. Was literally and regrettably speechless. Thought I might actually vomit on him for a minute.

What could you possibly say to someone that hateful to make them see others as people? That's not really rhetorical- I feel bad for not having the wits to respond in that situation. I find it easier to react when it's actually protecting other people- tell them to shut the hell up and make sure the other person is allright. But when it's just me and an awful person or two, I have no idea how to handle it. It doesn't help that I tend to associate hateful views with violent people. That was a violent assertion he made in and of itself, in my books.
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I hide. And I wish you had vomited on him.
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I think this was brilliantly written. I've noticed the arguments that follow this line hard, but I had assumed that they were two prevalent thoughts that tended to occur in the same type of individual, not that one may actually exacerbate or even be the cause of another.

It also explains the baffling phenomenon of anti-equality folk focusing like a laser on 'Marriage is procreative!!' when that statement makes NO sense at face value (as we don't forbid people who are old, sterile, or don't wish for kids to marry).
This is a very interesting article, because it finally answered for me where the deep opposition to same-sex marriage is coming from for many people. Some of it is the simple "gay people are ICKY," but there seems to be a separate thread within it, that's specifically opposed to marriage. And this article talks about why, and where the notion that it might threaten "traditional" marriage can come from: because it normalizes the idea that traditional gender roles aren't automatically a part of marriage.

h/t +F.S.J. Ledgister for the link.
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So I haven't been on G+ much lately- my scanner broke, so I haven't been using my good comp. But next month I should be getting a new tablet so the good computer will be unearthed and Googling shall resume, yay!

But that brings me to a question. I would be very grateful for some opinions from sensitive people on inappropriate jokes- especially from the kind of people who are generally against rape jokes. I'm working on some cartoons that try to communicate social justice issues better- Tumblr seems to show people like the idea of social justice cartoons, at the very least. In particular, my question is about how to be respectful as well as effective.

I am trying this out based on the theory that you can joke about awful things, but you need to be very mindful about who is the butt of the joke. IE, a rape joke could be OK if you are laughing at how absurd rape culture is, not at the fact that there is rape, not at who you think doesn't get raped, and certainly not at victims themselves.

The main problem I have now, looking at the lineart and preliminary dialogue, is that using a metaphor seems to be a good way to overcome the initial shut-down peoples brains do when talking about difficult stuff, but drawing comparisons to rape is a risky prospect as nothing is really comparable to rape. One of the series so far is variations on people reacting to the victim of other crimes as ridiculously awful as they react to rape victims, shown without context until the last panel, just flowery text 'If we treated all victims like we treat victims of rape' (wording in progress =p ).  The intent is to shock the reader with the implied exaggeration- you wouldn't harass the victim of this (lesser) crime, so why is it OK when it's rape? BUT by drawing the comparison to other, arguably lesser crimes, I imagine it could possibly be seen as minimizing a traumatic experience.

There are also a couple 'safer' ones, comparing it to a shark attack for example, but my worry is that cliches are limited in scope and number. Obvious connections like that won't have the full impact, as it's not as much of a surprise (people won't be as open to a challenging idea, and it isn't as funny). But I want to prioritize not minimizing something awful over making something potentially funny, so any opinions on whether you see that as a valid or worthwhile comparison, or if it falls flat, would be greatly appreciated.
#rapejokes #socialjustice #victimblaming #feministcartoons
Breana Van Den Heuvel's profile photoJames Carman's profile photoDaniel Rice's profile photoJessamyn Barton's profile photo
I definitely am going for it as they are right now.
What I decided content wise is to leave it at the ones I have written for now, and decide where to go from there once I have some responses to them.

I actually thought I'd have them done by now, but have had issue with shipping my tablet in (partially my fault, I changed my mind on what size I want) It's supposed to be in next Monday, yippee!

I'm taking the delay in getting them out as a good opportunity to spend more time filling my brain with more viewpoints about this stuff before I spill more out of it :)
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Time for a mini public service announcement. Do spectacularly stupid people ever get you down on FB? For a true example, people non-ironically believing sugar (or an herb, for that matter) literally cures all diseases, including freaking mortality? Or, another true story, trying to imagine how you could possibly prove to someone that the Twix 'Ideologies' commercial is clearly a joke? I have good news. Googling 'How to explain obvious things to idiots' can be surprisingly cathartic.

It's no help at all in understanding why people WANT to believe, but it's funny nonetheless. (For the first three we get an awesome Basic Instructions cartoon, Dilbert and "Six Foot Of Ginger Idiot", a Harry Potter fanfic. Later there's an piece about how to explain Higgs Boson to a layman, or idiot)

Is it so hard to get that when something claims to cure EVERYTHING and/or DEATH in general, it is bunk? We would know if there was a cure for death. Seriously. Especially when it's SUGAR. Truly thinking sugar can work boggles my mind, for if placebos or synonyms for placebos (sugar... pills) worked against cancer or death, there would be no cancer or death.

Also any post at all, regardless of content, that starts with '*THEY* won't want this getting out!' was written by a sensationalist idiot. Perhaps non-idiotic posts with this thesis do exist, like a prisoner writing about their escape, someone letting loose an alligator in a swimming pool, or a politician coming out as an alien in a skin suit. But I certainly haven't seen any yet, and I read waaaaay too many op eds in newspapers and posts online. Nnngh.
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Absolutely, this is one of the main reasons I left. I have a chronic disease, and I ran out of polite ways to tell people that the links to "cures" they were sending me were utter nonsense.
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You're all probably quite over-saturated with posts about the school shooting. So instead of posting about that, here's a post about posts about that. Which is much better.

This is a quote with a couple cherry-picked comments. The poster, a Christian lady, on my Facebook page*, is by all accounts a sweet lady. People like her are very common in the religious area that I'm from. I know her and she's actually kind, thoughtful, intelligent, 'normal', etc, and ultra-Christian.  Because of the former qualities seemed to outweigh the latter, this post was a bit of a shock. But since, I've heard it IRL and on the net a fair bit. Too much. Every Christian I've known IRL that has commented on this has made similarly inappropriate remarks- that's why I needed to get this out of my head.

Do these Christians (the ones who are saying this, specifically) have any clue how unbelievably callous they are being with this? Really- blaming a lack of god in the schools (+ home and nations) as the cause of school shootings? I thought the Christian god was supposed to always be with you, a la that ubiquitous Footprints poem?

So in this scenario, how exactly is god getting "kicked" out of schools, nation, home, etc causing school shootings to the extent that we cannot be surprised that it is the cause?

Is the idea that Christians are getting 'pushed too far' by being told they can't pray in public (which is bunk, as individuals can pray but the people can't be FORCED into their prayer- except for the Pledge of Allegiance) or not have 10 commandments up in schools and courthouses? So much for that turn the other cheek stuff. Or irate Christians could go to the courts to uphold their religious freedom instead- which they have every right to do if they feel they're being infringed upon, whether or not the other 30% of us agree that they're being oppressed.

Or are they, as with the commenter, casually implying that people of all other religions and lack thereof completely lack morals and as such are prone to random killing sprees? First off, as a secular humanist, thanks a ton. <i>People who argue that there is no morality without religion worry and disturb me immensely</i>- do you truly feel no empathy? Then perhaps for you, for the person without enough sense of empathy to respect other peoples right to bodily integrity as innate, religion <i>is</i> a moral necessity (just don't read the old testament). 

Even some people I know who don't generally take an old-testament view of god have vaguely muttered Sodom-and-Gomorrah type explanations of retribution for 'kicking god out'. I assume by the vagueness- unwillingness to explain the threat further- they mean to be subtle? Sly? Not atrocious, somehow? I think (hope) most modern-day Christians would prefer the days of child-killing curses strictly in the past. Or does taking the 10 commandments out of school halls actually qualify as bad enough to be worse than that whole original sin thing?

I've been seeing lots and lots of people of all ideologies propose various diametrically opposed pet issues as 'obviously THE' reason this happened. The reasons this happened are extremely important to talk about, but it seems a bit jerkish to take a couple-hour-old tragedy and use it to springboard discussion of a pre-made issue. And that's exactly how these 'what did you expect' religious posts come across to me.

Not that I'm completely exempt from this, in the interest of full disclosure- while there are many steps that can be (NEED to be) taken to help this, imo access to quality, free and stigma-free mental health care would seem to be a powerful way to help stymy these tragically common occurrences. But while I truly think that would help, I'm not saying it's the ONLY reason, and I'm certainly not pointing to anyone's religion or lack thereof as villainous.  Not even Christians- There are bound to be Christian voices speaking in moderate tones, there just doesn't happen to be any in the cultural bubble I see irl.

Even though I technically know better, I still can get the urge to write 'for the sake of balance'. As such, I want to say that I've seen as many people of the atheist and anti-theists persuasion using this as a springboard for their views on religion... Unless this counts... But you know what? For as many as I'm friends with and/or following online, I have yet to see a single, solitary person of any belief system (or lack thereof) blame <i>too much religion</i> in home, schools, or the nation as a whole for this shooting. If there are some people saying that in the deep cesspools of the internet, in some trollishly twisted rule 34 type scenario, it truly doesn't seem to be a mainstream thought**. Unlike the religious sentiment that it was some sort of natural consequence of... Um, not having school-led-prayer? Not having the 10 commandments in courthouses (presumably the already-charged people will gasp, 'OHHH I didn't realize murdering him was a sin! my bad')? Not paying enough attention to (their specific) god? I'm not too sure.

Is this really what they think Christian sympathy looks like?

*I honestly don't befriend Christians as trollbait either, I only really interact with moderates and people I know IRL and have to deal with.  
**Yes, I'll inevitably be flamed for this if even 3 people read it. It could be a bit no-true-scotsman-ish. And no I don't have anything but anecdata- how dare I call myself a skeptic! Skeptics can't talk about, speculate on, hypothesize about, or even profess to notice things until there's already a body of data to prove it! (IE: I'm not saying I KNOW THE %AGES OF PEOPLE WHO DO THIS, & WHY. I am saying 'What's up with this mode of thought, why do so many people think it, how does that work, also that is messed up'. Speculation. Which does always include a possibility of being wrong. The purpose of my writing is not To Always Be Right Forever, but to think, to discuss and to learn)
Felicity Graham's profile photoK.B. Burnfield's profile photoJessamyn Barton's profile photo
+K.B. Burnfield  True story! I want some sort of plaque on the wall that says something like that.
I think she truly believes that herself. Did I mention she is a teacher? That was a double-cringe factor for me.
But Canada doesn't have as strict of church separation as the US (as its supposed to, anyways)
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I think this is very well put and interesting. About news and social media coverage of important/awful events. I post this not meaning it to be a blanket statement against any posting of things related to Boston, but rather as an interesting way of looking at what may drive the obsessive section of people posting.

This gave me another avenue to think about why certain coverage bothers me- it seems more like reveling in it when, for example, people on my FB in Canada (with only Canucks on their list) spent all week posting pictures of blood and debris, posting pictures of various (though never white) suspects.  And one even got upset that I was online but not sharing their 'detective work', though I hadn't posted anything unrelated to the various awful happenings this week either.

My sympathies, thoughts, and 'good vibes' insofar as they exist go out to all those in Boston, those who know someone involved, and all Muslims.
The Tyranny Of Real Time

We live in a real time world.

Well, we always lived in a real time world. But the scale of that world used to be quite small. Basically just the people in our immediate vicinity. And when we got mass media our world expanded but it wasn't a real time world.

Radio and TV were for the longest time a reactionary media. They told us about things after the fact. Hours rather than days, but still afterwards. Because it was afterwards they were able to supply context and attempt to put all the information into some semblance of order.

Things really changed with the arrival of the 24 hour news networks. They were desperate to fill up air time.  Suddenly we had live on the scene reporting for everything.

And audiences lapped it up. Because instinctively we feel that things that are happening now must be more important than things that were happening 6 hours ago. Even if that frequently isn't true.

In fact very few of the things that are covered by 24 hour news channels are of any actual importance to 95% of the people watching. They are visual gossip, but they don't actually impact our lives. 

Along Comes The Internet

The internet is as real time as 24 hour news, but without even those minimal filters in place. So when it arrived the number of potential news sources ballooned. Suddenly we were free of middlemen coloring our news. Or at least that is how many people see it.

Blogs allowed people to report on the things they thought were important. The iPhone and other cellphones made cameras and video ubiquitous. And social networks made news a non-stop stream.

Drowning In the Stream

The amount of news we are now exposed to is overwhelming. It's impossible to consume it all. Instead we dip in and out of that stream as it is convenient.

When something bad happens like the bombings in Boston, we immerse ourselves trying to soak it all up. Trying to understand it. For most of us who are not in the immediate vicinity doing this, forwarding posts... it makes us feel as though we are doing something.

But as I pointed out earlier, real time news isn't actually good, or useful news. And again the tragic events in Boston illustrated this.

The social media streams were flooded with reports and reposts. But for the first 3 hours there was really no useful news to report beyond the fact that explosions had occurred.

There was, however, a flood of bad news. People speculated as to the culprit (probably incorrectly since we still don't know). Threats were issued. Additional bombs were reported. Incorrect death tolls were reported. A suspect was being questioned (not). There were photos. Oh so many photos. First person accounts. Reaction shots. Endless reportage. Just very few actual facts.

And none of it helped.

Real Time Done Right

Now there were some good uses made of social media. Google's People Finder for example or the spreadsheet of people who would put up others who needed a place to stay. These are excellent uses of the real time internet.

Providing relevant information to people who are in a specific location when they need it is how the real time internet should work. Unfortunately the good stuff. The relevant stuff is often drowned by all the rest.

The Tyranny Of Real Time

We currently live in a world where real time is presented as the be all end all of news. It's not.

Certain information is beneficial to us in real time. It's useful for me to know if there was a car crash on the route I take to and from work.  It's useful to me. I can do something with it.

Pictures of dead and bloody people. That is not beneficial. I can't help these people. I can't do anything except feel bad. It's hard to turn away from that flood of information when something important is happening. But the information isn't helping.

The problem with removing the middleman from news is that filters are actually important. Humans are very bad at being unemotional and analyzing  large quantities of data. We tend to find patterns that don't exist and were' all guilty of confirmation bias.

The delays we used to experience before receiving news allowed facts to be confirmed, information to be reviewed and multiple people to analyse it. That has all been lost.

The real time coverage of the Boston Bombing didn't enhance our understanding at all. If anything it probably had a negative effect by exposing people to horrific images and making them experience horrible events while removing any sense of control from them.

Real time information has a lot of good uses, but news isn't one of them. And we need to move away from the idea that knowing sooner is always better.

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Thanks for this--both the repost and your comments. It really crystallized something I think a lot of people have been wrestling with.

I tend to respond to major news blitzes like this by disengaging completely. I refuse to read any news about it (beyond headline skimming) or participate in discussion or anything. I don't see the point. This may not be the best response either, but I don't feel like I'm either contributing to, or being manipulated by, the endless battle for eyeballs (since that is the real goal. Not communicating information).
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Jessamyn Barton

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Eugh that's terrible (the experience- not the article) . 'We'll come back for your rights! Just don't actually stand by us or anything, we don't really want to be seen together.'
How on earth could someone even think that gay marriage doesn't effect trans people?
Given their history of non-inclusiveness when  it comes to the trans community though, I'm seriously not holding my breath on them even considering implementing the pro-trans suggestions in the op-ed. Very sad.
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No surprise that the group involved was the HRC! A summary of that particular group's transphobia:

There's a repeating meme in many progressive movements: "Society needs to accomodate people who don't fit. Like me. But no-one weirder than me, just me."
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Anger, sarcasm, aggressiveness, and a pst/warning about changing posts

So I'm going to be trying out a bit of a different tone for some of my stuff, which I guess is a bit of a warning? I've been going more and more clinical with my writing in an attempt to make it perfectly clear-cut and as proof against misinterpretation of my meaning. But for many reasons I am going to experiment with injecting more humour and anger into it (though less than the comics, for those familiar with them).

In part, writing so sterilized actually takes some meaning away rather than unambiguously clarifying it, as knowing your tone can aid in interpretation and also can inspire more organic understanding (ie it's less confusing for some people).

There are some more important personal reasons as well. For one thing, writing like that is a drag. Not that wild-tilting drunken rants are my goal by any means, but completely depersonalizing the writing takes much time and effort away from the actual message, and usually weakens it besides. It makes something I do obsessively into something I actively avoid.

The last but by no means least of the reasons is that aggression makes me very deeply uncomfortable in most any situation. It's a byproduct of past abusive experiences that can be and has been a major limiting factor in my participation in discussions offline and on. Which is why I ban aggressive trolls and have (sparingly) in the past asked people I've talked with to please dial back their anger/aggressiveness a touch in responses to my own posts on things. I categorically do not believe in the value of making tone arguments, but regardless of what side of an issue someone's on, it severely limits my participation when seeing someone being pretty aggressive gives me flashbacks or a panic attack. Yes, even virtually. Actually, it happens more often online, as people tend to not get screamingly angry in person (I am severely lucky that I'm a member of privileged groups that people are more hesitant to yell at specifically, white as hell and middle-class). I do work on this, because it does no one good to be unable to move when something loud happens.

So part of the idea here is to get used to the idea that anger doesn't have to be destructive. Doesn't have to mean 'out of control'. Playing with the idea that it might be something that could actually be constructive.

At any rate, I hope that I can get comfortable with using this device in this setting, so that I might soon find an amount of anger, snark, or sarcasm that successfully enhances the understanding of my own writing rather than detracting from it. That means I will most assuredly mess up sometime, and will have to keep an open mind when it comes to critical feedback, and the balance of getting the right feeling message across and just what it is which readers are picking up on.  Thanks for understanding that this is a learning process (both in understanding I will mess up, and that I must keep an open mind with and need constructive criticism).
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And some random mohawk pics, because mohawk.
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Hopefully this came out pared down enough, I have trouble editing when I've pulled an all-nighter like I did tonight because our terrible neighbors cat is in heat. Next week: Why women undermine themselves by preemptively apologizing for their work?? The week after that: Do cat 'adult toys' exist, and can you slide one under your neighbors door

Add holidays, in-laws, atheism, Christianity, stir in some Jewish cultural appropriation

This is part story, part question.

 My husband is pagan and I am a secular humanist, but we put up a tree and celebrate with gifts and feast. I grew up in a Roman Catholic family and always loved the community aspects of Christmas, and he grew up in a strict Church of God household that didn't celebrate any holidays or birthdays, but was curious. I didn't realize until last year, in our relationships fourth year, that he had never put up a tree or celebrated in any other way than gift-giving, and we had a discussion about whether or not to celebrate and decorate in our own house rather than just with our families.

It didn't take much deliberation to decide that we didn't feel it was appropriation to celebrate in our own way. Pagans had the date and tree first, after all (keep the pagan tree spirits in Christmas trees!) and I have fond memories of the secular side of the celebrations. So we got a tree and over the past two years we've collected a nice little selection of secular ornaments- I always preferred stars over angels anyways, even before I identified as a non-believer.

Last night his family came over for a birthday celebration. They celebrate those now, as well as  having small Christmas celebrations and trees after converting to Lutheranism awhile back. I'm not sure how long ago- for as long as I've known them, though they started some time after the kids were grown.

In addition to the birthday boys gift, his parents brought a gift for us and her other atheist daughter. I didn't see them give anything else to the other two siblings. "It's a Christmas light to go in your window." My mother in law explained, as I confusedly opened the box. "Um," I wasn't sure what to say other than, "It's a menorah?" "Yes, we know," cheerfully agreed his father. She confusingly added, "You're definitely supposed to put it up Christmas, and during." Simultaneously my atheist sister in law opened an identical electric menorah (what a sweet band name!). Her wife squinted and politely noted, "It's very pretty."

It really is quite pretty. I've always thought menorahs are quite pretty. But I've never had one, as it seems rather appropriatory (appropriationish?) to take a meaningful religious symbol from a group of people who have spent most of history having to hide their religion due to being horribly discriminated against and display it... 'because it's pretty'.

I don't know what was meant by giving this gift. I can't even hazard a guess as to whether the intent was charitable or not.

Looking at the less-charitable options first, were they trying to make a statement? The two siblings who don't go to Midnight Mass got menorahs. The two siblings who do, seemingly didn't. It is possible, though unlikely, that they gave them some at another time.

What kind of statement would be made by giving atheists/ pagans a religious symbol that neither they nor you are in any way associated with? That you should try some religion during the holidays? Or some sort of passive-aggressive symbol of 'while you're decorating religious symbols you don't believe in'? The latter seems a bit cartoonish to be a real option. I do wonder though, in no small part because his father was an English teacher and what English teacher have you ever known that hasn't unnaturally loved obvious symbolism? (Mostly joking)

Is the thought that displaying symbols of multiple cultures in the home gives the message of tolerance? I like the idea of embracing all religions, and would definitely agree that having multi-faith symbols in public would be a lovely way to make people feel welcomed. But does that same idea really work in an individuals house? In this case, to me, it seems similar to the wearing feathers 'to honour' Native Americans or appropriating other countries religious wedding ceremonies just because it's 'like, deep, man'.

There's a lot of debate over whether those things are OK or if they really are appropriation. I literally cut out enough about that debate out of this piece to make another post. But the main gist is that I have heard people who have less social privilege than I do tell me that those things hurt them. And you know what? That's enough reason for me not to do it. No, really, I don't see how wearing a 'pretty' feather is worth rubbing it in to every Native American I see that we took over their land, slaughtered them, tried to exterminate their way of life, and now see them as so mythical and/or extinct that it's totally cool to take a deeply revered symbol of honor and respect that had to be earned and wear it... Because it's pretty. It would be like wearing a fake Purple Heart of Order of Canada, and I wouldn't wear one for the same reasons I don't wear feathers.

The reason I bring this unpopular idea up is because people complain a lot about 'the ridiculous PC police' who stop them from doing all the fun things in life... And will complain about even thinking about the appropriateness of using a menorah... But exceedingly few people are saying people actually CAN'T use various hurtful words, feathers in hair, pope hats, etc. Very few people that point that stuff out as not okay think that those things should land you in jail. Rather the idea is that we SHOULDN'T. As in, because it is a jerk move to do so, because it hurts people. And hurting people that are oppressed and already going through a hard time reinforces all the terrible things they're going through, and as such is a different and far more harmful thing than generally being mean to someone otherwise privileged.

Of course in this specific case, there is a possibility that cultural appropriation wasn't part of the original thought there. Perhaps, being somewhat new to the whole Christmas thing, they had/have no idea what a menorah is. It doesn't say anywhere on the package what it is.

I am rapidly getting to the point in my life where it seems like a pointless waste of energy to pussyfoot around issues. Not to be confused with not having the energy to have empathy and tact, however. So I think that I shall have to ask what the thought and meaning behind it is. I suspect if there was any kind of uncomfortable (for them) discussion on any topic that I or we would possibly not be invited back, so we'll carefully find out what their thoughts were on it and then play it by ear, like most of life.

So, internet, is this a thing now, hipster menorahs? Are we moving towards Jon Stewarts vision of an alternate reality where Christians are jealous of how cool Hanukkah is (and there's been 3 Jewish presidents!)? And if anyone Jewish reads this, I would appreciate your views and feeling on this. I have searched for blogs and such, but googling various combinations of menorah and appropriation brings up historical appropriations, and the cultural appropriation blogs I follow mostly deal with Native American and African American cultures.

**(This may seem defensive, but I have been criticized on saying this type of thing before, mostly by white male skeptics/anti-theists, who say things like 'Oh, can't think for yourself, need [whatever minority] to make up your mind?' To those people: Yeah, if I want to learn another persons views on something, I will actually go and do my best to get their views from their mouths, not learning it from 'common knowledge' prejudice. And that double goes for people that may be hurt by my specific actions)
Ingvar Mattsson's profile photo
I am not sure what exact shape your menorah (or alike) has, but if you simply want a multi-lightsource candelabra thing there is always the classic Swedish "Christmas candelabra". Usually electric, seven bulbs in a rising triangle, left lit in one or more windows, during the dark hours.
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Friday the 13th is very lucky, if you enjoy easily spooking people (who are only mildly superstitious- no need to traumatize). It also provides a very visible, very accurate measure of how many of your friends and acquaintances are superstitious, and to what extent. I've seen people creep about as if on ice.
The Superstitious Brain

It's yet another Friday the 13th: the unluckiest day of the year. 2012 actually has 3 of these unluckiest days, the most that can occur in a single year: in January, today, and again in July - each exactly 13 weeks apart from one another...

But there's nothing innate about the feeling that Friday the 13th is unlucky - it's actually cultural. In some countries (Italy), Friday the 17th is the unlucky day, and in others (Greece, Spain) it's Tuesday the 13th. In China and Japan, 4 is the unluckiest number, presumably because one of the pronunciations for the character representing 4 sounds similar to that of the character representing death.

All of this highlights the way that many of our superstitions develop and are sustained, as cultures or as individuals - by detecting patterns. As +Bruce Hood points out in his book, The Science of Superstition: How the Developing Brain Creates Supernatural Beliefs, our brains are just doing their jobs. Our brains are wired to be superstitious, to see patterns and connections where none exist, and confirmation biases (which could be linked to our brains' dopaminergic systems: ) strengthen our beliefs that those connections are real and meaningful. Honestly, who among us hasn't thought at least once: "So bizarre that you called just now - I was just thinking about you! We must have a psychic connection..."

Superstitions actually can be useful in some situations, serving effectively as stress-reducers when someone is in a really uncontrollable or uncertain situation (as with astronauts, firefighters, and even athletes). And there can be a self-fulfilling prophecy to those superstitions -- incidences of heart attacks increase on the 4th day of the month in China; the North American economy tends to tank on Friday the 13th; athletes play worse when they deviate from superstitious behaviours -- which ala confirmation biases, just strengthens believers' beliefs of the superstition.

For many some people, though, the superstitions are far from useful - they can be completely disabling: Friday the 13th really is bad luck for people who suffer from paraskeviddekaphobia (the fear of Friday the 13th) - estimated to affect about 20 million people in the US alone. These folks may not even be able to leave their house on this day, for fear of what might lie in wait (some folks might not even be able to leave their beds, for fear of what might lie on the floor) - it's a truly debilitating condition.

On the + side though, it's been estimated that traffic accidents decline in some places on Friday the 13th (e.g., in the Netherlands), presumably because people worried about what might be are a little bit more careful when driving.

You can read more about the potential role of dopamine in superstition, and why professional athletes may be more superstitious that the average person here:

And you can hear +Bruce Hood talk more about how our brains have evolved for superstition in an interview with Seth Shostak (as part of a larger series on The Science of Superstition featuring another G+ luminary, +Philip Plait) here:

Allison Sekuler's profile photo
thanks for sharing +Jessamyn Barton - that will bring you good luck :)
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Passionately moderate- A geek, humanist, freethinker and, despite all appearances, an optimist.
I love gaming, photography, reading and drawing comics, sci-fi, books, and other fun stuff. For games, I play a lot of console/pc games and MMOs (WoW and SWTOR atm). I'm hopeless at FPS' though.

I'm also intrigued by/ obsessed with social issues, and love discussing them when I have the time. Though I strongly identify as liberal and secular humanist, having strong views doesn't preclude my enjoyment of discussing different viewpoints. I endeavor to be respectful and open-minded, and feel the the goal of exchange is not to try to persuade people to adopt ones own view, but rather to understand as many other points of view as possible as thoroughly as possible.
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